During 2020, the Aquarium will leverage its turtle expertise to show
guests why these reptiles are not only amazing animals but also
increasingly in need of our help
With a mission to connect people with nature and inspire them to make informed decisions about water and wildlife, it’s no wonder the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is looking out for turtles. Turtles are an amazing example of biological adaptability and endurance. They've roamed the earth for 220 million years and have filled almost every ecological nook and cranny on the planet. They've outlived dinosaurs and survived ice ages and countless other calamities. In the process, they've carved out niches in practically every habitat on earth.
They're also much-loved, admired the world over for their unique beauty, and held up as symbols of wisdom, tranquility, and steadfast perseverance. However, they are often underappreciated for the vital role they play in the environment. Wherever found, these amazing animals are keystone species, pillars of entire ecosystems on which many other animals depend for survival.
Unfortunately, despite their much-celebrated endurance, turtles are in trouble. Globally, they are the most endangered vertebrates on the planet, and scientists are now concerned this group of unhurried reptiles is racing toward a tipping point. That's exactly why a large group of zoos, aquariums, and conservation organizations—including the Tennessee Aquarium—officially declared 2020 "The Year of the Turtle." This yearlong turtle bonanza will feature the film Turtle Odyssey 3D in the IMAX Theater and a wide range of turtle updates and additions to the Aquarium visitor experience. It also will train a bigger spotlight on the work being done by conservation groups to study and safeguard turtles around the world.
The Tennessee Aquarium has always been a steadfast champion of chelonians and is home to the largest collection of freshwater turtles in North America. And the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute is at the forefront of conservation efforts to study and protect turtle species, especially in the turtle-rich environs of the Southeast United States. “We are very proud of our turtle experts and the way they have been working quietly for years to make sure turtles survive for future generations,” says Thom Benson, Director of External Affairs at Tennessee Aquarium.
During 2020, the Aquarium will leverage its turtle expertise to show guests why these reptiles are not only amazing animals but also increasingly in need of our help. The Aquarium’s Year of the Turtle initiative is based on three pillars:
- Build Excitement
- Tell Our Conservation Stories
- Ask The Public To Help Us Save Turtles Together
Featuring the film Turtle Odyssey 3D in the IMAX theater connects visitors to the Green Sea Turtles that live in the Secret Reef exhibit inside the Aquarium’s Ocean Journey building. After viewing Turtle Odyssey, viewers will have a deeper understanding of the green sea turtle life cycle, marine conservation, and much more. Plus, the film aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards in numerous categories.
The Aquarium produced a suite of educational materials to accompany Turtle Odyssey 3D, and those materials are available for all theater partners and community organizations. The main goal for the supporting materials is to stimulate interest in marine conservation and exploration in elementary and middle school children and families. Materials include a film guide for educators that provides an overview, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), curriculum content connections, and background information; activities for students on science, wildlife, and conservation; and an educational poster related to sea turtles for teachers to post in their classrooms.
The Aquarium also has a spectacular new Turtles of the World Gallery opening on March 13 in the River Journey building. After exploring these dynamic habitats, visitors will see a new turtle nursery. For the first time, the Aquarium’s efforts to raise hatchlings of threatened and endangered species will be brought into a public space. Kids of all ages will enjoy a series of interactive exhibits that introduce some turtle superheroes who are working to save turtles from around the world. And they will also be able to pose for “shell-fies” as turtle hatchlings in an over-sized turtle nest.
The Aquarium has announced its leadership in the new AZA SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) American Turtles program. They’ll also highlight the Aquarium’s ongoing work to breed critically endangered turtles in-house as well as scientific studies that may help other turtle experts protect these creatures in the wild.
Throughout the year the Aquarium will host a series of Year of the Turtle special events, the first of which was an inspiring presentation in the IMAX theater by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, who has documented nearly 10,000 of the world’s rarest creatures over the past 15 years for The Photo Ark.
By designating 2020 as “The Year of the Turtle,” Tennessee Aquarium hopes to engage the public with fun and informative content throughout the year. “One of the most important roles the Aquarium has always played and will continue to play this year is bringing awareness of turtles to the public,” says Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s director of forests and animal behavior. “We help to make people like turtles more when they come here and see the diversity of turtles we have on exhibit. That’s a big part of getting people to care.”
Many thanks to Thom Benson at Tennessee Aquarium for providing all
the information and photos for this lifelong learning success story.